Amrit Narula said he learned his lesson the hard way after opening his Mr. Cheesesteak restaurant during the pandemic on Miami Boulevard in Durham.
"Yeah, we actually opened in the middle of COVID," said Narula, adding that many customers are more reluctant to come inside a traditional restaurant for fear of coronavirus exposure in a closed space.
"Commonly, we’ll have only two or three of these tables filled," said Narula, referring to his normal lunch rush.
Fortunately, before opening the restaurant, Narula had the wisdom to invest in and operate two food trucks. The food trucks are what has helped him stay in business.
According to business consultant Ted Bachman, who offers lessons for students at Wake Tech, the food truck business is very popular and growing rapidly.
Bachman is one of a group of experts at Wake Tech sharing knowledge about the legal, tax and financial aspects of operating a business, even mobile businesses.
Students learn about the risks, investments and strategies required for success in the food truck world. Bachman said his best advice is not to go it alone -- and seek expert advice.
"I think to start any business without any knowledge is foolish," said Bachman.
Sameer Pawa, director at Wake Tech's Workforce Continuing Education hospitality training programs, works to find the experts who can help people aspiring to open their own food truck operation and avoid the potholes ahead.
"You come to us. We'll give you all the do’s and don’ts, mostly the don'ts," he said.
Pawa said buying and outfitting a food truck is a major investment that can average between $50,000 to $75,000.
"If you’re going to be spending that kind of money, you better know what you’re getting into," said Pawa, explaining that is the purpose for Wake Tech’s food truck classes, which meet at the college’s Public Safety Center on Chapanoke Road in Raleigh.
Narula said his food trucks may now have an advantage over restaurants. However, he said, it’s still an uphill climb.
"Food trucking is down too," he said, referring to the fact that many customers now work from home. There are also fewer big events to attract food truck rodeos and gatherings.
Now, Narula said, food truck operators depend more than ever on social networking to find and better serve their customers. He and others even offer curbside pickup for customers who order online so they won’t have to wait for their meal when they arrive.
Good service and having the ability to adapt to customer needs is how food businesses have always survived.
"We are able to serve communities and people that normally wouldn’t come to a restaurant," said Narula.
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